WOMEN AUTHORS

女性作家たち

Five great books by Japanese women

Ms Ice Sandwich, Memoirs of A Polar Bear, Convenience Store Woman book covers

To celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March, we asked Japan House London’s book curator, HABA Yoshitaka, to recommend five books written by Japanese women. You can find the books recommended by Haba in The Shop at Japan House London.

Haba Yoshitaka is a book connoisseur and representative of BACH. Through the production of library displays, reading areas and installations on shop floors, Haba aims to connect books with different industries, creating opportunities for people to have greater access to unknown books. His love of books spans beyond curation to include editing and writing. Visit the Japan House Library to see the books Haba chose for Japan House London and his regularly changing book displays.

 

 

‘Convenience Store Woman’, by MURATA Sayaka

This superb novel, set in the simple, sterile, rational and routine environment of a Japanese convenience store, won the 155th Akutagawa Prize. It miraculously succeeds in balancing the stifling pressure to conform that people feel as they drift through modern society, with exquisite depictions of the individuals themselves. Murata is probably the only Japanese writer capable of capturing modern existence in such a light-hearted way. 'Convenience Store Woman' is translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori.

‘Memoirs of a Polar Bear’, by TAWADA Yōko

Tawada was born in Tokyo, but emigrated to Hamburg in 1982. She writes in both Japanese and German, voyaging far and wide, back and forth, in and out of her mother tongue, as she weaves her worldwide web of stories. This book is a three-generation chronicle, featuring polar bears as its lead characters. By faithfully describing the bears’ inner thoughts and feelings, from their unique ursine perspective, the author allows readers to discover links with all sorts of places. If you’re seeking a story with cool, clear beauty, this is one for you. ‘Memoirs of a Polar Bear’ was first written in Japanese and translated into German by the author herself; translation into English is by Susan Bernofsky.

 ‘Ms Ice Sandwich’, by KAWAKAMI Mieko

Kawakami created this tale from multiple layers of insights into people: she doesn’t miss an inch. Her writing has long been praised for its depiction of women, as it greedily grasps hints of emotions before they even emerge. In this work, however, we can see her methodology applied on a smaller scale, to young children. Welcome to a world of adulation, full of puzzles and secrets. ‘Ms Ice Sandwich’ is translated by Louise Heal Kawai.

‘THE ANIMALS’: poems by MADO Michio, selected and translated by Empress Michiko

This book was published in the summer of 1989, just as Japan was transitioning between the Shōwa and Heisei imperial eras. Empress Michiko selected some poems by Mado Michio – a Japanese poet of universal popularity – translated them, and compiled them into this work. The twenty texts about living creatures reflect Mado Michio’s typically Japanese outlook on life, a paean to life itself, and the empress’s translations extract and express this essence clearly. As we enter the final year of the Heisei era, this wonderful work deserves to be read again. 

‘Halo’, by KAWAUCHI Rinko

Kawauchi is a leading figure in modern Japanese photography. In this, her latest work, she captures light and dark from locations around the world, be it myriads of British migrant birds, or sacred flames in the Kamimukae festival at Izumo Grand Shrine; all are projected from her singular vantage point. Kawauchi is blessed with a rare talent to express the latent, sensitive, and multi-layered relationship between nature and humankind with the gentleness and beauty of a prayer.